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Modern Shinto fantasy

By Linda Schoales, editor

Sep 29, 2009: “Tamao” is a delicate, slow-flowing story about a modern Japanese woman who brushes against the supernatural in an old Shinto shrine. She awakens something even older than the shrine and maybe something in herself.

Akiko Tanahata has an office job, a small apartment, an ambitious boyfriend and a mother who worries she’ll never get married. While walking home she gets caught in the rain and decides to wait the storm out in a nearby shrine. When she enters the main building she finds herself in another shrine, on a sunny day, and she glimpses something she can’t believe in, but that she won’t be able to forget. From that moment on she’s haunted by the image of what she saw in the shrine, and she’s drawn back there.

The writing is very graceful, with a slow, dreamy quality. The story unfolds slowly in short sequences. Small details are added in each part, gradually filling in Akiko’s backstory as well as that of the Shinto shrine and its kami. The Japanese terms are not always explained right away, but the cultures, both modern and old, flow throughout. The descriptions are vivid and sensual. The supernatural elements often appear on the edges of Akiko’s senses, more atmospheric or part of the setting rather than as a character or part of the story. There are a lot of dream sequences and images being reflected in windows. This may change later in the story. I stopped to write this review after the first 30 episodes. There is the sense that something is trying to communicate with Akiko. It’s not clear yet whether or not it is benevolent.

If you enjoy fantasy with an Asian flavour, “Tamao” could well be your cup of tea. The pace is slow but the story flows well. The main character is sympathetic, if not your typical strong heroine-type. It’s a very intriguing idea and I’ll be interested in returning to the story and seeing where the author is going with it.

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